This paper presents an approach to measuring the major components of the water cycle from space using the concept of a sensor-web of satellites that are linked to a data assimilation system. This topic is of increasing importance, due to the need for fresh water to support the growing human population, coupled with climate variability and change. The net effect is that water is an increasingly valuable commodity. The distribution of fresh water is highly uneven over the Earth, with both strong latitudinal distributions due to the atmospheric general circulation, and even larger variability due to landforms and the interaction of land with global weather systems. The annual global fresh water budget is largely a balance between evaporation, atmospheric transport, precipitation and runoff. Although the available volume of fresh water on land is small, the short residence time of water in these fresh water reservoirs causes the flux of fresh water - through evaporation, atmospheric transport, precipitation and runoff - to be large. With a total atmospheric water store of approx. 13 x 10(exp 12)cu m, and an annual flux of approx. 460 x 10(exp 12)cu m/y, the mean atmospheric residence time of water is approx. 10 days. River residence times are similar, biological are approx. 1 week, soil moisture is approx. 2 months, and lakes and aquifers are highly variable, extending from weeks to years. The hypothesized potential for redistribution and acceleration of the global hydrological cycle is therefore of concern. This hypothesized speed-up - thought to be associated with global warming - adds to the pressure placed upon water resources by the burgeoning human population, the variability of weather and climate, and concerns about anthropogenic impacts on global fresh water availability.